Monday, August 22, 2016

Three Documentaries

Three documentary films I watched last week

1. The Thin Blue Line (1988, Directed by Errol Morris, USA)

For people (like me) who can't stomach watching the many episodes of Netflix's documentary about the miscarriage of justice, Making a Murderer, this famous 102-minute doc covers the same ground:
a powerless shmuck is the fall guy for a murder he didn't commit, set up by a police force and justice system out for blood, not to mention bad luck in companions.

I usually dislike reenactments in documentaries [fakey presentations---ugh], so I was sorry to see Morris uses them. 
But after a while you realize he isn't creating "factual" reenactments, these are more like Rashomon: he shows the murder scene [not gory at all] over and over from different views, but never clearly.
However, Morris is not making a point about memory and perception---he's saying, people are lying.

The Criterion DVD includes a follow-up interview with Morris--it's nice that the innocent man got released because of his film, but you can't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

2. The War Room (1993, dir. D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, USA)

Filmed in the "fly on the wall" documentary style, with no explanations or titles--that's my favorite, but it gets harder to decipher the older the doc gets. For people don't remember the times (or who weren't even born yet), I'd recommend watching the 2008 follow-up doc on the Criterion DVD first.  
In 1993 we didn't need to be told who these guys were:
George Stephanopolous and James Carville, ^ leaders of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign staff

An unintentional story as interesting as the political one emerges: the changes in technology. The campaign staff is still jotting stuff down with pens on paper and tethered to phones with cords.

3. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (2016,  dir. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, USA)

I grew up watching Norman Lear-produced TV shows All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude etc. Since watching Starsky & Hutch this year, I've become interested in reviewing the 1970s and also interested in television history. I was excited to see this documentary.

It was a disappointment. 
It's a tribute--almost fawning--more than an investigation. The sort of thing they show at Lifetime Awards shows. 
Lear's life (criminal dad, feminist wife) is overemphasized---it doesn't open up his work much, and the man's all about his work.

The directors use a boy to create winsome reenactments. Lear says he never lost touch with the boy inside him, so this boy appears throughout wearing Lear's trademark hat. Schmaltzy, and what a waste of film time--I'd have preferred more about the political/social climate or how TV was made.

What did interest me:
The man's incredible energy. More and more I see what a crucial player that is. Lear was running five TV shows at once. (Not surprisingly, his marriage fell apart.)

His openness. Three members of the Black Panthers showed up in his office to protest that Good Times was garbage.  (Speaking of Stepin Fetchit, remember JJ's "DY-NO-MITE?" cringe)
And Lear said, "Let's talk." 

Star of All in the Family Caroll O'Connor's reply to talk-show host Dick Cavett calling O'Connor's character Archie Bunker a "lovable bigot."
OConnor says he doesn't know about "lovable"--you may laugh at and enjoy watching him, but he's an unhappy man whose life has been so restricted, he's warped. 

As a teenager, I had totally missed that. (This reminds me of what it's like to be a teenager: unforgiving of flaws. Or, I was, anyway.)


Krista Kennedy said...

Love those first two. You might take a look at Lear's autobiography. It has more of what you might be looking for.

Fresca said...

Hi, Krista!
The doc about Lear mentions his autobiography a lot (it's almost like he sponsored the doc as a big ad). But I'm glad to hear from you it delivers more than the movie---I'll keep my eye out for it.